Salmon Farming in Gansbaai

The Truth Exposed by national television

SABC's Special Assignment

16th of August 2005

Journalism and Television Expose the Gansbaai Salmon Farm

On Tuesday the 9th of August the first part of the Special Assignment program 'White Lies' was broadcasted on the South African national television channel SABC3, and the second part of the program was broadcasted on Tuesday the 16th of August.

For two months, during June and July 2005, Hazel Friedman and Shamiel Albertyn, two professional journalists investigated the salmon farm established near Gansbaai and Dyer Island, and they managed to find out the truth about many issues, and present them in this very well done two part documentary 'White Lies'.
Map: The yellow dot shows the present location of the salmon farm which is located about a third of the way from shore to Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. The blue area represents the area in which the salmon farm may be located at present, and the red area is a so called 'exclusion area' which might in the future be used by the aquaculture project.
On the 30th of June 2005, I welcomed Hazel and Shamiel on board Lamnidae, and Andy Brandy Casagrande joined us to get some underwater footage of the nets with his pole camera.

We spent maybe twenty minutes looking at the nets and filming underwater footage and interviews, before I received a warning phone call from one of my friends on shore telling me that the salmon farmers were rushing to the Kleinbaai harbour with their boat to come and intercept me. Remember that they warned me a few times before already about a so called 400 meter (well, one times they actually said 200 meter) exclusion zone around the nets in which no boats were allowed. I had in the meanwhile double checked with Marine and Coastal Management (the authorities in charge of marine affairs), Nature Conservation and with the Overstrand Municipality that there was no such restriction in place. So we were no trespassing any laws or regulations by coming close to the nets (note that I said 'close' and not touching or indeed trespassing, a fact that will become important further in the story).

Within minutes, the salmon farmers' boat came full speed towards Lamnidae, but they spotted the large broadcast camera that Shamiel was handling and obviously changed their planned action as they moved closer. They charged around the boat yelling two questions: 'Are you Michael Scholl?' to which I answered 'Yes', followed by 'Are you the skipper of this boat?' to which I again answered 'Yes', and they resumed this highly aggressive conversation by saying 'That is all we needed to know'.

They then resumed to attaching their boat to one of the farm's net, to give the impression that they had not launched for us only, but were indeed busy doing their normal chores. Nevertheless, they left a mere seconds later back to shore, probably because their only reason for coming out here was to confront me, not knowing about the television crew on board. Amazing what the presence of a large camera can do...

We returned to Kleinbaai harbour not much later, and we were welcomed by a large group of people: 3-4 Sea Fisheries inspectors (Marine and Coastal Management officials), 5-6 M.A.R.I.N.E.S. (Management Action for Resources of Inshore and Nearshore Environments) officers (they are the elite anti-poaching and marine regulation and enforcement officers of a project of the Overstrand Nature Conservation department), a few inspectors of the South African Police Department and the salmon farmers of course. The salmon farmers certainly had been busy on the phone calling just about everybody they could think of during the past ten minutes. Hazel and Shamiel immediately approached the group of people and introduced themselves as journalists for the television program 'Special Assignment'. The fish farmers refused to comment or talk to Special Assignment, and soon after the large group of government officials dispersed and returned to more important matters.
The central net (above) containing the salmon was in a terrible condition on the 30th of June, with the nets heavily overgrown with algae and the flotation ring sinking deep underwater at times with the incoming swell. We suppose that the rings had sustained some damage and were indeed slowly sinking, especially with the added weight of the growth on the nets. During the week prior to our visit, the salmon farmers had installed a net in the north ring (below), possibly to relocate the salmon into a more 'adequate' new pen.
At the beginning of August, a South African Police inspector knocked on our door to inform me that a criminal charge had been registered against me on the 30th of June by the salmon farmers. I was charged with destruction and trespassing of property, and a claim for damage estimated at R10'000 (around 1'500 US$). The inspector informed me that the salmon farmers had four witnesses stating that I was the one who caused the damage, but none would actually state that they observed me doing the damage. They just all said that I was the only boat anywhere close to the nets between two of their visits to the farm, and I had to be the one who caused the damage.

When I was informed about the charge date of 30th of June, I could not suppress a smile. That was the date on which, I could bring forward two very credible witnesses of my own, the Special Assignment journalists, plus Andy Casagrande, if the case was ever to appear in court.

This charge certainly came as a surprise... But maybe I should have expected this kind of foul play from a group of people who believe that they are above the South African people... By the 15th of August, I was told by the Police that the case had been dismissed by the Judge for lack of evidence. Maybe the Special Assignment broadcast a few days earlier also carried some weight in this dismissal.

These nets are located in one of the roughest and wildest parts of the world's oceans, and they are directly exposed to our huge and powerful winter storms and especially our south-westerly swell running through the bay after every front. To claim that I damaged some of the surface infrastructure because they did not observe any other boat in the vicinity of the farm that day is just stupid. The power of the ocean is the answer! Why doesn't Salmon Salar go back to Norway and install their nets in a protected and calm Fjord?

The two journalists of Special Assignment, Hazel Friedman and Shamiel Albertyn, uncovered many aspects about this salmon farm during their investigation and presented these clearly in their production 'White Lies'. Even though they approached the owners and workers of the salmon farm company Salmon Salar on multiple occasions, they refused to comment or present their side of the story. This silence alone clearly shows that there is a problem in the communication with the South African public to whom the government, and hence the authorities who issued the permit (Marine and Coastal Management), has to respond in the end.

Several people were interviewed during this production, among whom:

  • Leonard COMPAGNO - Shark Research Center, South African Museum
  • Craig SPENCER - Head of the Overstrand Nature Conservation and the M.A.R.I.N.E.S. (Management Action for Resources of Inshore and Nearshore Environments)
  • Wilfred CHIVELL - Marine conservationist and owner of Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics
  • Michael RUTZEN - Owner of Shark Diving Unlimited
  • Doug JEFFREYS - Environmental consultant
  • Andre SHARE - MCM Directorate of Resource Management and Allocations
  • Evan MATTHEWS - CEO of Rowmoor
  • Grant PITCHER - MCM scientist
  • and myself, Michael SCHOLL - White Shark Trust and University of Cape Town
These are some of the aspects uncovered and presented in 'White Lies':
  • This Norwegian salmon sea cage farm is the first of its kind in South Africa;
  • This salmon farm represents a new and non-negligible threat to the protected White Shark population;
  • The long term effects of mariculture are yet unknown, and the cancer causing agents used in farming salmon will accumulate through the food chain and end up in our plate;
  • The farm represents a major threat to local wildlife through entanglements, and in some countries aquaculture permits are under review or withdrawn if the farming takes place anywhere close to White Shark or Seal populations, until the entanglement issue has been resolved. Entanglements in fish farms results in the death of White Sharks in 70% of cases, and that only with proper contingency plans in place should such situations arise;
  • Smoked salmon has not yet been observed on the dinner table of the previously disadvantaged community. Considering that 4-5 kilograms of fish meal is needed to produce one kilogram of Salmon, as a result affordable fish to most South Africans are used to feed the wealthy few;
  • The fact that the shore based and well established Abalone farms have demanded and obtained an exclusion zone for salmon farming to avoid that by-products of the salmon farm be pumped into their inlet pipes and contaminate their farmed abalone, clearly indicates that there are some non-negligible polutants entering the ecosystem;
  • The salmon of this aquaculture venture have suffered huge mortality;
  • Lack of transparency;
  • No report to local community;
  • Minimal to no communication between the salmon farmers and the authorities;
  • Marine and Coastal Management confirmed that the entanglement issues and monitoring issues have been left for the salmon farmers to report. There were few to no conditions attached to the permit conditions;
  • Infrastructure damage to the salmon farm have been confirmed, but Salmon Salar claims that these were inflicted by boats. Considering that for the first four months of operation, no navigation lights, no radar reflectors indicated the position of these nets, it would indeed not be surprising if boats had caused damage. This is of course not according to maritime regulations, and represented a major safety hazard for anyone at sea. In April, Salmon Salar finally placed two weak boat lights and small radar reflectors on the nets, and in August, they finally moored four large yellow buoys (see picture below) to indicate the location of the farm. But the damage is most likely not from boats nor from acclaimed salmon farm terrorists like myself, but due to an extremely bad choice of location in the Cape of Storms;
  • Norwegian owner of Salmon Salar and their South African counterpart refused to comment;
  • Salmon Salar is 100% owned by Norwegian George Agotness, which contravenes the South African constitution that stipulates that any company operating in South Africa and issued with a governmental permit must include a majority of South African shareholders;
  • Salmon Salar promised employment and community empowerment to the community empowered company of Rowmoor in Bloempark. Following long partnership and shareholding discussions and agreement negotiations between Rowmoor and Salmon Salar, Marine and Coastal Management issued the permit to Salmon Salar, which them stopped all negotiations with Rowmoor. Rowmoor, a previously disadvantaged community empowered company, was used to obtain a permit and then dismissed as soon as the permit had been issued. Where is the promised and necessary community empowerment? Where is the promised and necessary community employment? Certainly not local!;
  • When asked about the conditions for an extension of Salmon Salar's permit beyond the pilot study, Marine and Coastal Management was only worried about: 1. Shareholding situation; 2. Black economic empowerment; and 3. Transformation - These are the three magic words in the current political and economical situation in South Africa. Andre Share did not mention anything about monitoring, enforcement of permit conditions, nor about the problems with the location of the farm or the wildlife interactions, he was just worried about politics and money;
18 of August 2005

We have been experiencing a series of very strong winter storms in the Western Cape of South Africa during the past week, and the salmon farm off Gansbaai will probably sustain some serious damage again... Salmon Salar will probably blame me again for any damage... Just in case, they read these lines: these pictures were taken from shore.

17 & 18 August 2005

A journalist from Norway, Erik Hagen from NorWatch, came to South Africa to investigate the Gansbaai salmon farm among other stories about Norwegian companies in southern Africa. Erik met with the owner of Salmon Salar, George Agotnes, as well as marine conservationist Wilfred Chivell (Dyer Island Cruises), and Craig Spencer, head of the Overstrand Nature Conservation and the M.A.R.I.N.E.S., as well as myself. Erik covered one aspect of the Salmon farm already in an article published last week on NorWatch (click here for the article in Norwegian).

19 August 2005

Heavy and stormy seas were still putting the salmon farm structure to test, but in the afternoon with the abating winds, the fish farmers launched their boat Laksen ('salmon' in Norwegian) to probably feed the fish...

26 August 2005

A massive storm is hitting the Western Cape with forecasted 25 to 40 ft waves, and gale force northwesterly winds... This is a big one, and dwarves the previous few storms! Certainly the strongest storm since July 2004. The local newspaper is running a story telling everyone that I have been charged with sabotaging the salmon farm... I wonder what excuse they will find after this storm has passed through. Most of the time, the farm was invisible from the massive swell crushing the infrastructure.